Daily Archives: April 12, 2012

The Ultimate Theodicy


That’s right.  This is Easter week for the Eastern Orthodox tradition, so today is a second “Maundy Thursday”!  I love those years when the liturgical calendars of the two great Christian traditions don’t coincide, ’cause then we get to celebrate the most potent event in world history TWICE!  TWICE!  (Did I say that already?)  You get the point.  So keep yer helmet on, ’cause HERE WE GOOOOOooo…

The word “maundy” comes from the Latin for “commandment” that appears in the Vulgate version of John 13:34, “Mandatum novum do vobis….” “A new commandment am I giving you, that you be loving one another; just as I love you, that you also be loving one another.”  Jesus declared these words during the intimate talk he had with his disciples on that last evening he shared with them before his death.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus, being aware that his hour came that he may be proceeding out of this world toward the Father, loving his own who are in the world, he loves them to the consummation.  And at the occurrence of dinner, the Adversary already having cast into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, that he may be surrendering him, Jesus being aware that the Father has given all into his hands, and that he came out from God and is going away toward God, is rising from dinner and is laying down his garments, and, getting a cloth, he girds himself.  (Jn 13:1-4)

What transpires thereafter is the Lord’s foot washing of his disciples that many Christian traditions celebrate on this Thursday evening.  Jesus concludes,

Do you know what I have done to you?  You are shouting to me ‘Teacher!’ and ‘Lord’!’ and you are saying ideally, for I am.  If, then, I, the Lord and the Teacher, wash your feet, you also ought to be washing one another’s feet.  For an example have I given you, that, just as I do to you, you also may be doing.  Verily, verily, I am saying to you, A slave is not greater than his lord, neither is an apostle greater than he who sends him.  If you are aware of these things, happy are you if you should be doing them!  Not concerning all of you am I speaking, for I am aware whom I choose, but that the scripture may be fulfilled, “He who is chewing bread with me lifts up his heel against me”  [Ps. 41:9].  Henceforth I am speaking to you before it is occurring that you should be believing, whenever it may be occuring, that I am.”  (Jn. 13:12b-19)

“If anyone is wanting to be first, he will be last of all and servant of all.”  “But whosoever may be wanting to become great among you will be your servant.  And whosoever may be wanting to be foremost among you will be the slave of all.  For even the Son of Mankind came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his existence a ransom in exchange for many.”  (Mk. 9:35, 10:44-45)  In addition to the above episode, the logic of this teaching of Christ is clear from the entirety of Scripture…not to mention common experience.  It is the life and career of Jesus that supremely exhibits this truth.  For persons who humble themselves will be exalted by God.  Jesus accepted humbly every humiliation his Father appointed for him.  But we must keep in mind that this amounted to an acceptance of personal injustices, the ultimate of which was his unjust execution on trumped-up charges.  (Okay, and one correct one–admitting God was his Father.  Alas, for him!  For it was all too true.)  God led him thus to bear a covenant curse appointed originally for sin.  But for a sinless one— “Lamb of God” –to experience the curse upon sin was clearly unjust.  It was this Divine appointment, therefore, which evoked the overcompensating “vengeance” of the Resurrection–the reversal of the injustice of the Cross.  Christ’s heroic acceptance of profound humiliations was rewarded by God’s superabundant, overwhelming grace and exaltation above every sovereignty, authority, power, glory, and throne!

Thus also our willingness to bear our own cross of unjust suffering of abuse also evokes God’s marvelous favor and eventual exaltationThis temporal delay is designedly a stimulus to our faith, expectancy, patience, and endurance.  And we are to accept the experience joyfully.  Our true happiness lies in knowing for a certainty that our expectation of glory is as inalienable as was Jesus’ own.  [03/27/95]

Jesus Christ did indeed suffer a curse for our sins, but since he was ever obedient to his Father, he kept the covenant sinlessly and therefore suffered unjustly.  It is this irrepressible truth that, after three days, exploded upon created-but-disrupted reality in the triumphant form of a Resurrection from among the deadFor Christ’s Resurrection was God’s own verdict from heaven, reversing his unjust condemnation by a lower court, and accordingly ransoming the Savior himself from Sheol/Hades!  (Hos. 13:14, Ps. 49:15, 16:8-11, Acts 2:25-28)  In this wildly unexpected action, God pulled off the ultimate theodicy, justifying in one fell swoop Himself, His Son, and all who simply trust this joyous proclamation, who are, in turn, ransomed from death by the Savior who was ransomed by the justice, power, and glory of God!  That amounted to a class action…and a class act!  Moreover, God did so without at once destroying Christ’s unjust executioners, but instead proclaiming in the most unimaginably gracious way possible His mercy, forgiveness, patience, and longsuffering toward all his enemies.  Thus does God’s kindness lead us to repentance and, beyond that, to love.  [03/23/95]

This is serious business!  Yet when was the last time you heard a pastor, radio preacher, much less a public figure, protest that “the real meaning of the season” has been muffled and eclipsed by a commercial holiday, festooned with decorated eggs, and branded with a bunny rabbit?  How has the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God and Creator of heaven and earth, been marginalized, his anthems seasonalized, the season trivialized without any sustained outcry?  [04/03/95]  Okay, Christmas, now that we get!  But Easter?  But lest I belabor the point, I simply wish to highlight that there is something missing in the prevalent theological status of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead.  But this is nothing new.

Anselm of Canterbury, the great innovator of medieval atonement theology, had virtually no use for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I put the matter this crassly to emphasize precisely the point at issue.  Anselm, of course, would never have denied the actual occurrence of that grand event (as so many theologians of today would).  It was, for him, merely useless theologically speaking, and most certainly soteriologically speaking.  This is the crucial (ironically!) point.  [04/12/95]  A theologia crucis (“theology of the cross”) has fatefully upstaged his Resurrection from the dead!  That theological miscalculation, in turn, has seriously compromised the potency of the Lord’s Resurrection to serve as the supreme theodicy for us, that is, to provide a palpable, tangible, sensible rationale for the temporary continued existence of palpable, tangible, sensible evils in the world even after Jesus ascended the throne and assumed sovereignty nearly 2000 years ago, now.  But more on that later.


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